When I was young, my family traveled to Canada, Maine, and Vermont for fishing trips (my father was a fresh water fisherman). One of my fond memories was seeing the taps in the maple trees in the woods. So magical for me.. a city kid. They were just like beer taps (or for me, they probably looked like soda fountain taps). Tapping the trees for maple syrup was always the highlight of these trips. This experience broadened the school history lesson about the early settlers and Maple Syrup. Of course the indigenous people tapped the trees first, but that wasn't part of our lesson.
An individual maple tree can be tapped one to three times per year (depending on how big the diameter of its trunk is), producing up to 13 gallons of sap per one to two month harvesting season. Maple trees keep the starch inside their roots and trunk before winter sets in which is then later converted to sugar that appears in the tree's sap in winter and early spring.
It is the starchy sugar that makes maple syrup so characteristically sweet. In order to turn sap into sugar, it's heated and boiled to evaporate the excess water, with the concentrated syrup remaining. Sugar shacks were set up for this process, and those were also available for viewing in small Vermont and Canadian towns. I imagine they still are.
Want to know more about the history of Maple Syrup? Read "Tapping into the history of maple syrup" at Chronically Vintage.
What to do with maple syrup? Well, growing up, maple syrup at our house came in a little crock and was only used to pour over waffles and pancakes. But Maple Syrup is actually a great item to have in your pantry and can be used in lots of ways. Maple syrup is a healthy alternative to sugar in baked goods and desserts.
Substitute an equal amount of maple syrup for sugar.
For each cup of syrup, reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients in the recipe (water, milk, juice) by about a quarter of a cup.
Maple syrup can also serve as a one-to-one substitution for other liquid sweeteners, such as honey, molasses and corn syrup.
And, with the holidays coming up, here's a great recipe for Chocolate Maple Syrup.. for yourself or to give as a gift.
CHOCOLATE MAPLE SYRUP
1-1/2 cups pure maple syrup
4 Tbsp unsweetened DARK cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chopped
Pinch of salt
Heat maple syrup in small sturdy saucepan over moderate heat until hot.
Whisk in cocoa powder, butter, and pinch of salt. Turn down to simmer and whisk for a minute.
Serve syrup warm.
Syrup keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week.